2007 Georgia missile incident

The 2007 Georgia missile incident refers to the landing of a missile in the Georgian-controlled village of Tsitelubani in the Gori district near the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone, some 65-km (40 miles) north-west of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on August 7, 2007. Georgian officials said that two Russian combat aircraft violated its airspace and fired a missile, which fell on the edge of a village but did not explode. Russia denied this allegation and said that Georgia may have fired the missile on their own territory as a way of provoking tensions in the region. Several expert teams were sent to Georgia to investigate the incident. While two international investigation teams confirmed Georgia's claims, the Russian team dismissed them. The OSCE stated that it was "extremely difficult to have a clear picture", given the conflicting nature of the experts' findings. The organization decided not to launch its own probe into the incident. The Portuguese ambassador to the OSCE has issued a statement on behalf of the EU, which refrained from supporting either Georgian or Russian version of the events. [ [http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/1438_september_10_2007/n_1438_3.html No OSCE probe into Tsitelubani missile incident] . The Messenger. September 10, 2007.]

Background

The missile incident occurred amids rising tensions between Georgia and Russia since the 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought Mikhail Saakashvili, a pro-western president to power.Adrian Blomfield, "Analysis: Why would the Kremlin attack?" in "The Daily Telegraph", August 8, 2007, [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=MM1P1OGOTCWQPQFIQMFCFF4AVCBQYIV0?xml=/news/2007/08/07/wgeorgia307.xml] ] Among others, his wish for Georgia to join NATO and the EU irked Russia as it marked a loss of Russian influence in the region. Since then, several crises, incidents and accusations have succeeded each other: the 2004 Adjara crisis, the 2006 North Ossetia sabotages, the 2006 Russian ban of Moldovan and Georgian wines, the 2006 Kodori crisis, the 2006 Georgian-Russian espionage controversy and the March 2007 Georgia helicopter attack incident.

Incident

Vano Merabishvili, Georgia’s interior minister, said that two Sukhoi attack aircraft entered Georgian airspace from Russia at 7.30 pm on August 7 and fired at least one air-to-surface missile at the village of Tsitelubani. [Adrian Blomfield, "Georgia: Russia fired missile at village" in "The Daily Telegraph", August 8, 2007, [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/07/wgeorgia207.xml] ] The missile left a 16-foot crater in a field but failed to detonate. Sappers later defused the missile.

Reactions and views

Georgia

Georgian experts have identified the missile as a Soviet-designed Kh-58 ARM. The remains of the missile were destroyed by the Georgian authorities before its identity could be confirmed by the Joint Control Commission. [cite web
url=http://www.regnum.ru/english/polit/868408.html
title= Georgia hurried to destroy warhead of unexploded bomb: peace keepers
publisher=REGNUM News Agency
date=2007-08-09
accessdate = 2007-08-11
] Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the incident was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against its neighbors and urged European states to condemn Moscow. Georgia claimed to have radar evidence proving that the invading aircraft flew in from Russia and said that the strike had aimed, unsuccessfully, at destroying radar equipment recently installed near the South Ossetian conflict zone. [ [http://civil.ge/eng/detail.php?id=15579 Report Gives Some Details on Missile Strike] . "Civil Georgia". August 9, 2007.] [ [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/4528af9c-464a-11dc-a3be-0000779fd2ac.html Russia and Georgia lock horns over missile] .August 9, 2007.] The Georgian experts suggested the pilot did not fire but jettisoned the missile and fled after friendly forces of South Ossetia mistakenly fired an anti-aircraft missile at his jet. [ [http://ca.today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=uri:2007-08-08T151544Z_01_L08165891_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-RUSSIA-GEORGIA-MISSILE-COL.XML&pageNumber=0&summit= Calm urged in Georgia, Russia in missile row] . "Reuters Canada". August 8, 2007.]

Former President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, said that during his time in office, Russian jets on a regular basis bombed Georgian forces during the wars in the 1990s when Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke from central government control. "I won't be revealing any great secrets if I say that that such violations of Georgia's air space and bombings were common during my presidency. But Russian forces never acknowledged any of this," Shevardnadze said. [http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/08/10/europe/EU-GEN-Georgia-Russia.php Georgia: Russian peacekeepers violated mandate by obtaining new witness statement] AP (via The International Herald Tribune), July 10, 2007.]

The Georgian opposition politicians Salome Zourabichvili and Shalva Natelashvili suggested that the Georgian authorities might have been behind the incident, intended as a provocation. [cite web
url=http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-georgia8aug08,1,1008652.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=1&cset=true
title= Georgia accuses Russia of provocation
publisher=Los Angeles Times
date=2007-08-08
accessdate = 2007-08-09
] [cite web
url=http://www.imedinews.ge/en/news_read/56599/
title= Natelashvili considers Tsitelubani incident to be provocation planned by government
publisher=Imedi TV
date=2007-08-08
accessdate = 2007-08-09
]

On August 22, after the conclusions of the two international and the Russian investigations (see below), Georgia's UN ambassador, Irakli Alasania, accused Russia of attempting to "intimidate Georgia and assess Georgian military readiness." He further added that Georgia had to "take an absolutely resolute and non-negotiable stance in the face of efforts to use military force to destabilize a democratic state, and to attempt to influence its domestic and foreign policy". [ [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/bfc1150a-900e-457c-bfbe-5637ca163d5f.html Georgia, Russia Ratchet Up Missile Accusations - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY ] ]

outh Ossetia

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity described the incident as "a provocation staged by the Georgian side, aimed at discrediting Russia", claiming that another bomb fell in South Ossetia. [cite web |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/georgia/story/0,,2143775,00.html |title=Georgia accuses Russia of bombing village |accessdate = 2007-08-10 |format= |work=The Guardian] In his words, "a Georgian military plane crossed into South Ossetia on Monday, performed manoeuvres above Ossetian villages and dropped two bombs." [cite web |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/georgia/story/0,,2143775,00.html |title=Georgia accuses Russia of bombing village |accessdate = 2007-08-10 |format= |work=The Guardian] On August 9, 2007, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced that he intends to request that Russia deploys air-defense systems in the republic, to discourage any such future incidents. [ [http://en.rian.ru/world/20070809/70680398.html Breakaway South Ossetia asks Russia for air defenses in conflict zone] . "RIA Novosti". August 9, 2007.]

Russia

Russia also denied the Georgian claim. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6832236,00.html Georgia Says Russian Jets Intruded] . "Guardian Unlimited", August 7, 2007.] Later that day, Russia's foreign ministry said that Georgian jets may have fired the missile on their own territory as a way of provoking tensions in the region and derailing a session of the Joint Control Commission on Georgian-South Ossetian Conflict Resolution. [cite web |url=http://www.kommersant.com/p794292/Georgia_Missile_UN/|title=Russian Missile Reaches UN|accessdate = 2007-08-10 |format= |work=Kommersant] Georgia immediately denounced the claim as absurdity.
Pavel Akulyonok, a Russian Air Force engineer working for the Russian team investigating the incident, said that "the Georgian side has forged facts". He said many parts of the missile which usually remain after an impact could not be found. [http://en.rian.ru/russia/20070829/75610670.html Russian expert says Georgia falsified facts in missile incident] ]

Other

The U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza rejected the Russian allegations, advising Moscow to tone down its rhetoric on Georgia. [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/07/AR2007080701466.html U.S. tells Moscow to tone down rhetoric on Georgia] . "The Washington Post". August 7, 2007.] European Commission spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann urged Georgia and Russia to show restraint and said it is not possible to further comment on the incident until the full facts are known. [ [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/08/08/2000212.htm EU urges restraint from Georgia, Russia over missile - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ] ] She added a team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is looking into the affair. The OSCE has also appealed for both sides to show restraint.

Adrian Blomfield reported in "The Daily Telegraph" that some commentators suggested that a group of Kremlin hardliners were intent on provoking a military confrontation to provide an excuse to change the Russian constitution and allow Russian president Vladimir Putin to stay in power. Alexei Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said it was possible that this faction had ordered the firing of a dummy missile in a bid to fuel the crisis. But he said it was more likely that the missile attack could have been carried out by local Russian army units without the knowledge of the Russian government.

Stratfor, a private intelligence agency based in the United States speculates that "considering regional developments in the past few weeks, this "bomb" was far more likely a Georgian ploy than a Russian one. (And it is even more likely that it was accidentally dropped by an under-loved and under-maintained Georgian aircraft rather than deliberately targeted.)". [ [http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=293614 Georgia: A Bombing Whodunnit] ]

Aftermath

OSCE report

According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the OSCE spokeswoman in Vienna, the OSCE mission reported "one aircraft flying from north-east" though the report has not yet been publicly released. The spokeswoman stressed that it was "an internal report that does not represent the position of the OSCE". The Georgian state minister Davit Bakradze added that "there is no other country than Russia to the north-east."

On August 17, 2007, OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, appointed Croatian diplomat and ex-minister Miomir Žužul, "to be his personal representative in a mission to Georgia on (a) missile incident that took place on 6 August," alleged to be a Russian missile strike on Georgian territory. Žužul will reportedly travel to Georgia and the Russian Federation early on the week of August 20. He will reportedly be joined by the Charge d´Affaires of the Spanish Permanent Mission to the OSCE, Arturo Perez Martinez. [ [http://www.osce.org/item/25955.html OSCE Chairman appoints personal representative for mission to Georgia on missile incident] . The OSCE Press release. August 17, 2007.] [ [http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?F=2976046&C=europe OSCE Appoints Envoy To Probe Georgia Missile] . Defensenews.com. August 17, 2007.]

On August 30, The OSCE's chairman-in-office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. [ [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/B5544941-991D-42A2-9554-D17C66F47A12.html OSCE Says Would Like 'Accommodation' On CFE Treaty - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY ] ] The ministers discussed among others the missile incident and Moratinos outlined the contents of the report prepared by his special envoy Žužul on meetings he had the week before in Moscow and Tbilisi. The report, which is not yet publicly available, will be presented by Žužul at the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on September 6. An OSCE spokesman said that "the key point here is that it's not the OSCE's role to pass judgment, or point the finger. It's to listen to all sides, and to recommend and seek ways to avoid similar incidents and tensions in the future. So this is not about trying to establish who was responsible, or what exactly happened, but to look to the future to try to find ways to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again."

On September 6, 2007, a months after the incident, a closed-door OSCE Council session was held. [ [http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/1438_september_10_2007/n_1438_3.html No OSCE probe into Tsitelubani missile incident] . The Messenger. September 10, 2007.] Julie Finley, the US ambassador to the OSCE, dismissed the report of the Russian experts and called for the OSCE to launch its own investigation. This motion was not supported by Žužul; there will be no OSCE probe into the incident. Instead, the organization will focus on preventing similar incidents in the future, promptly intervening in the event of a crisis.

UN Security Council

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to secure the holding of a UN Security Council session to discuss the incident and to encourage the international involvement into the investigation of the attack. [cite news|url=http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=80126b2c-161d-4b44-baab-0786504a9842&k=72126|title=Georgia, Russia deadlocked over mystery missile strike|publisher=The Montreal Gazette|date=August 9, 2007] Former Georgian president Shevardnadze dismissed efforts to involve the United Nations, as Russia would use its veto as a permanent member of the Security Council to thwart any real investigation or criticism.

On August 16, the United States, which backed Georgia's call for a special session, attempted to have the Security Council issue a statement on the alleged incident. Russia, however, blocked the move, calling it "premature."

International investigation

On August 15, the group of defense specialists from the United States, Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania, involved in the international investigation at Georgia's request, released their findings in Tbilisi. The group confirmed that the plane flew from Russia into Georgian airspace and back three times and described the missile as a Russian-designed KH-58, which is intended to take out radar systems. The team added that Georgian Air Force "does not possess aircraft equipped with or able to launch" that missile.

A team of Russian investigators also arrived in Georgia on August 16 to conduct its own probe. [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/e7f04d18-f0cf-41d9-8659-9305f8cf0859.html Experts Confirm Jet Entered Georgian Airspace From Russia] . Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 16, 2007.] [ [http://www.mod.gov.ge/?l=E&m=11&id=686 Report from the International Group of Experts investigating the possible violations of Georgian airspace and the recovered missile near Tsitelubani, Georgia, 16 August 2007] . "Ministry of Defense of Georgia". August 16, 2007.] Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi, Russian ambassador Valery Kenyaikin said on August 16 that Moscow did not find the evidence of the international team convincing."Russia Continues Investigation Of Georgian Missile Claim" in "Radio Free Europe", August 17, 2007, [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/b5f944cb-35cd-41d6-a34a-adbe5eea73b5.html] ] He also said the Russian team presented evidence that refuted the team's findings, commenting that: "The documents handed to the Georgian side show - and I hope prove - the absence of any information or elements [of information] testifying to the violation of Georgian airspace by Russia." A Russian Air Force official also claimed that Georgian authorities presented the Russian investigators with parts of several different missiles, some of which had traces of rust on them. [ [http://gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2007/08/17/n_1106749.shtml Georgia showing Russian experts parts of different missiles] . Lenta.ru. August 17, 2007.]

An envoy appointed by the OSCE to investigate the incident met Georgian officials in Tbilisi, and traveled to Moscow. [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/e2fa3ca6-1f09-467f-b0f8-2a029d9fb460.html Russia Disappointed With U.S. Over Georgia Missile - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY ] ]

A group of experts from Britain, Poland, and Estonia corroborated the results of the previous international investigation that a military jet illegally entered its airspace from Russia and dropped or jettisoned a missile before flying back to Russia. [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/bdc4d86e-e77a-406a-86a3-efaa1fc386ea.html Second Probe Upholds Georgian Missile Accusations - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY ] ]

ee also

*2007 Georgia plane downing incident

References


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